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Dont neglect cork

Thursday, 5th February, 2015 12:00am

Cork's Lord Mayor has said that she fears Cork Airport's status would suffer if Aer Lingus is sold to International Airlines Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG). She also said that the Dublin Airport Authority has 'neglected' Cork Airport's status.

Cllr Mary Shields yesterday said that "any proposed takeover of the Government's stake in Aer Lingus must include guarantees to secure the future of Cork Airport and indeed the future of all of the country's national airports.

"It would be very naive to think IAG would protect Cork Airport whilst the DAA presently neglects its status," she said. She told The Cork Independent that the Government would have to get guarantees that the Cork-Heathrow slots would be saved "forever really", if Aer Lingus were to be sold.

"As Lord Mayor, it's a great worry." The loss of the slots would be "detrimental for the whole city and county".

Government advisers met representatives from IAG yesterday afternoon for the first time. IAG this week issued a statement guaranteeing to use the Heathrow slots for Irish routes for at least five years after any takeover. There is no guarantee beyond 2020.

Lord Mayor Shields added: "It is clearly evident that IAG currently supports the status and development of London Heathrow and that it is clearly neglecting the status of regional airports such as Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Glasgow."

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) warned of the serious consequences facing Irish tourism if the Government fails to secure contractual rights to determine the use of Aer Lingus' Heathrow slots as part of any potential sale. The group appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, as did business group Ibec. They said they broadly support the proposed takeover.

In contrast, Cork Chamber's CEO Conor Healy told the committee of the importance of safeguarding Cork's connectivity for the region's business and tourism communities.

He would not comment on media reports that Cork Chamber of Commerce is one of the chambers offered power of veto by IAG, but said that the Chamber's position had not changed. Reports suggested that business groups in Cork, Dublin and Shannon would share a legally binding veto with the Government over the sale of Aer Lingus' landing rights in Heathrow Airport if the sale to IAG went ahead.

Speaking to the Government's Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications last Thursday, Conor Healy said: "Cork is the economic hub of southern Ireland and Cork Airport's services and air-connectivity are critical to the economic health and global investment appeal of Ireland's second city and its surrounding region.

"Cork's air connectivity has been instrumental in attracting inward investment from global market leaders and plays a pivotal role in serving the needs of the broader indigenous business base and tourism sector."

He said that Cork Chamber has grave concerns regarding existing government policy measures with regard to Cork Airport.

"In 2014, almost 400,000 passengers flew on the four daily flights which presently operate between Cork Airport and Heathrow and which accounted for almost 20 per cent of Cork's total 2.14 million passengers. One in five (20 per cent) of these passengers then transferred onto another international flight which underlines the criticality of this onward worldwide connectivity link.

"In addition the Chamber's own 2014 business air-travel survey showed London Heathrow is the most used hub airport by almost two thirds of businesses in Cork. We urge Government to ensure a legally-binding guarantee is put in place to maintain the existing Cork Airport to Heathrow connectivity before any sale of Aer Lingus should be considered."

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath highlighted the concern in the Cork area about the future of Cork Airport, which he said, was likely to see another 5 per cent reduction in passenger numbers in 2015. He said that any loss of Heathrow Airport slots "would be devastating for Cork Airport and the region it serves. In five years' time, Cork could be first to lose those slots," he added. He also suggested he would establish a lobby group for Cork Airport, including all 19 Cork deputies.  

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